Tag Archives | MMOs

World of Warcraft Joins the Free-to-Play Craze

Why, it was only last week that I wrote about how Valve and several other big video game publishers are lovingly embracing the free-to-play business model. Now you can add Activision-Blizzard to that group, because World of Warcraft is going free-to-play.

The new program is called World of Warcraft Starter Edition, and lets players explore the massive multiplayer game for as long as they want. Eventually, they’ll hit restrictions that can only lifted with a full, paid account. Those restrictions include a level cap of 20, a gold cap of 10, a trade skill cap of 100 ranks, no trading, no guilds, no public chat and no voice chat.

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Death By Smartphone: Panasonic’s Jungle Gets the Axe

The skeptics were right to dismiss Panasonic’s Jungle, a handheld gaming device that surfaced in previews last October. With development cancelled and no launch in sight, the Jungle is down in the deadpool alongside Panasonic’s failed 3DO.

The Jungle was designed as a Linux-based handheld with a high-resolution display, a physical keyboard, touch pads and a niche focus on massive multiplayer online games. Battlestar Galactica Online was supposed to be a launch title.

Panasonic won’t say why it aborted the Jungle other than “changes in the market and in our own strategic direction,” but I can make an educated guess that smartphones — and to some extent tablets — are to blame.

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Sony Looks to Playstation 3 for MMOs

Massive multiplayer online games never held my interest for long, but perhaps that’s because I’m a console gamer, and MMOs are mostly relegated to the computer. At E3, Sony Online Entertainment showed a slow crawl towards the console with a few upcoming MMORPGs for Playstation 3.

Only one of these games, DC Universe Online, was actually playable on the PS3. It’s a third-person beat-em-up that lets players build their own super powers and interact with famous DC heroes and villains, and it’ll be out November 2. The Agency, a first-person shooter with an open world for players to interact , also arrives this year, but only the PC version was on the show floor. Free Realms, out now as a free-to-play PC game for kids, is scheduled for next year.

Separately, Square Enix is working on Final Fantasy XIV, a subscription-based MMO under the brand of its most popular role-playing game franchise.

If you want to play MMOs on a game console now, the options are limited. Square released Final Fantasy XI to North America in 2004 for Playstation 2 and 2006 for Xbox 360. Everquest Online Adventures for PS2, a watered-down version of its PC counterpart, launched in 2003. Then there was 2006’s Phantasy Star Universe for PS2 and Xbox 360. And I suppose you grant MMO status to MAG, a large-scale shooter with ever-evolving factions that launched for PS3 this year.

But the games Sony Online Entertainment is working on now break the tired fantasy genre mold, and they should all be up and running in 2011. Console MMOs have their naysayers, but the PS3 may find success by seeking a broader audience than the World of Warcraft crowd.

The big question going forward is pricing. SOE spokeswoman Taina Rodriguez wasn’t ready to give specifics, saying that microtransactions, monthly subscriptions and tie-ins to the Playstation Plus online service are all on the table. But if Sony brought the popular free-to-play model of Free Realms to the Playstation 3? I could become an MMO fan in a hurry.


The New Flavor of MMOs: Shooters

crimecraft_01Traditionally, Massive Multiplayer Online games are not the avenue for testing one’s reflexes.

World of Warcraft, the quintessential MMO, follows the typical formula of managing health and attack skills through a system of statistics. EverQuest does the same. Even EVE Online, which abandons the typical fantasy setting in favor of Sci-Fi, is a game of resource management and overarching strategy.

As you’d expect, the Halo and Call of Duty crowd (e.g., me) are turned off. Massive multiplayer shooters exist, but only on the fringes of MMO culture, where your average shoot-em-up fan isn’t likely to find them.

MTV Multiplayer ran a nice round-up today on five games that are trying to change the status quo: APB, The Agency, Combat Arms, CrimeCraft and Earthrise. Reporter Tracey John asked one developer from each game to basically justify what they’re doing. I won’t summarize each of developers’ elevator pitches here; the important takeaway is that a wave of MMO shooters will hit over the next few years, aimed at the set that thinks World of Warcraft is for squares.

It’s funny, however, that none of the pitches sound much different from one another. They all claim the same predictable formula — take straightforward shooter, add community features and character building, stir — and I was surprised to hear very little about the games themselves. After all, once you strip away all the MMO features, you still need combat that’s good enough to draw people in. Leveling up only becomes addictive after the initial hook. Avoiding the stigma of MMOs with convoluted terms like “persistent world next-gen shooter” only goes so far.

I don’t want to pre-judge these games, but I’m worried that they’ll rely too heavily on community features instead of focusing on the actual act of play. To truly avoid lure shooter fans toward MMOs, it should be the other way around.